Tue | Nov 21, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Selective reality

Published:Monday | November 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Some will argue that the full truth of our lives is often so dismal that we conjure illusions into a version of reality which helps us to cope.

In the realm of economics, for individuals as for the nation state, there is pain and disillusionment which follow when the unavoidable reckoning comes.

On the eve of Mrs Christine Lagarde's visit, that is Jamaica's situation. It is not hopeless, but it is very serious, the moreso because we are refusing to face reality and do what we must to set things right. We are still looking for someone to give us a 'bly'.

Just witness the way our leaders and our media have ignored the clear words of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) managing director, who has emphasised how brittle and halting are our efforts towards sustained growth until we stop avoiding real public-sector reform, deal with the pensions crisis, get serious about earning foreign exchange and curtailing wasteful imports.

While we have been prancing around extravagantly in southeast St Mary, as if that contest changes anything substantial, the majority of us have become no less insecure; 'five in four' is a mirage and what is not an illusion is that the cost of a modest breakfast in central Kingston has moved from $200 to $300.

 

'Guineagogs'

 

A kind of pocomania is infecting us, the 'guineagogs' of the Jamaican polity, given the reality of a widening trade deficit, the illusion of a propped-up dollar, the extortion of financial sector fees and the nonchalance about Fitz Jackson's measured effort to correct some of this.

Last week, the teachers railed against the static offer of six per cent over two years. The dedicated and productive teachers undoubtedly have a case. Three plus three will not even keep up with inflation. But no one is considering the $7.2 billion in allowances, part of the $54 billion paid out each year in addition to basic salary, as well as the 2.5 per cent 'performance' allowance which everybody gets every year.

We are bright enough to do much better for ourselves without having to be prodded by the IMF to move beyond our habit of facing only fragments of our reality.

The labour movement led the nationalist struggle three and four generations ago. Working-class leadership understood the reality of colonial oppression as well as the suppressed talent of our people. The working class constitutes the majority of our population. But their voice has become trivialised and muted, most often limited to trying to squeeze a little more out of a hostile environment, themselves unwilling to face hard issues about productivity and accountability: being reactive and unrealistic about their prospects.

How else can you explain, given the current fiscal situation, the Joint Trade Unions' claim for a 60 per cent increase over two years or the JTA's demand for 25 per cent over the same period?

Bold leadership, facing full rather than selective reality and a consequential resurgence of the national spirit, could brighten this dark picture very quickly. It is unnecessary political divisiveness which stands in the way.

 

Ritual Recommitment

 

Last week in Parliament, there was the ritual recommitment to the Millenium Development Goals. It should be much more than that. The 17 goals should be what government is all about.

They should be taught in school, with learning and examination being related to their achievement. Each goal should be commended to a standing parliamentary committee, which would track implementation and report to the Houses and the nation periodically.

The goals of ending poverty, hunger, preserving the environment, ensuring quality education and the like, speak to the 'livity' all Jamaicans seek. Progress towards them can enthuse us in contrast to the petty squabbles and minutiae which dominate public discourse for the most part.

Most urgent of all, given the imminent finalising of next year's Budget, every line item should be scrutinised for its efficient contribution to one or more of these national objectives.

Now that Parliament is back to its full complement, we should do more than go through the well-intentioned but limited usefulness of the constituency contributions to which few pay any attention and the unspoken lurch towards the Christmas recess.

Time to stop being content with selective reality.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.